Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Relations

Written by  //  August 12, 2017  //  Foreign Policy, U.S.  //  1 Comment

See also
Trump administration U.S. – Russia relations
North Korea
Middle East & Arab World

Trump, Putin, and the New Cold War
What lay behind Russia’s interference in the 2016 election—and what lies ahead?
By Evan Osnos, David Remnick, and Joshua Yaffa
(The New Yorker 6 March edition) No reasonable analyst believes that Russia’s active measures in the United States and Europe have been the dominant force behind the ascent of Trump and nationalist politicians in Europe. Resentment of the effects of globalization and deindustrialization are far more important factors. But many Western Europeans do fear that the West and its postwar alliances and institutions are endangered, and that Trump, who has expressed doubts about NATO and showed allegiance to Brexit and similar anti-European movements, cannot be counted on. Although both Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Defense Secretary James Mattis have expressed support for traditional alliances, Trump remains entirely uncritical of Putin. “Trump changes the situation from a NATO perspective,” General Shirreff said. “The great fear is the neutering of NATO and the decoupling of America from European security. If that happens, it gives Putin all kinds of opportunities. If Trump steps back the way he seemed to as a candidate, you might not even need to do things like invade the Baltic states. You can just dominate them anyway. You’re beginning to see the collapse of institutions built to insure our security. And if that happens you will see the re-nationalizing of Europe as a whole.”

12 August
John Cassidy: Who Will Put an End to Donald Trump’s Warmongering?
(The New Yorker) There are some serious and responsible people around Trump. They include McMaster, Tillerson, Mattis, and John Kelly, the new White House chief of staff. But the evidence of this week strongly suggests that Trump is beyond being educated or managed or controlled. He is truly a rogue President.

9 August
This Is What European Diplomats Really Think About Donald Trump
Interviews with six top officials paint a picture of a president who is regarded even by allies as erratic and limited, and whose shortcomings are compounded by the ongoing chaos beneath him in the White House.
(Buzzfeed) On one level, the officials said, he is something of a laughing stock among Europeans at international gatherings. One revealed that a small group of diplomats play a version of word bingo whenever the president speaks because they consider his vocabulary to be so limited. “Everything is ‘great’, ‘very, very great’, ‘amazing’,” the diplomat said.
But behind the mocking, there is growing fear among international governments that Trump is a serious threat to international peace and stability.

6 August
Diplomats Question Tactics of Tillerson, the Executive Turned Secretary of State
Even skeptics of Mr. Tillerson’s foreign policy credentials thought the State Department, an agency of 75,000 employees, could use some of the management skills he had picked up as the head of a major corporation. Mr. Tillerson was supposed to know that leaders of large organizations should quickly pick a trusted team, focus on big issues, delegate small ones and ask for help from staff members when needed.
He has done none of those things, his critics contend.
Instead, he has failed to nominate anyone to most of the department’s 38 highest-ranking jobs, leaving many critical departments without direction, while working with a few personal aides reviewing many of the ways the department has operated for decades rather than developing a coherent foreign policy.
News reports have suggested other jobs may be eliminated, including the coordinator of cybersecurity and an office that investigates international war crimes.
Even Tillerson’s staff has taken a hit. He has appointed only one undersecretary, not the six who worked for his predecessor, John F. Kerry.
Tillerson said he had hired an outside consulting company, Insigniam, to help survey the more than 70,000 State Department employees worldwide for input on how to make the department more efficient. About half responded, some reportedly with scathing critiques. About 1,000 people were interviewed for additional perspective.
Five steering committees will make recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget on Sept. 15. But Tillerson has indicated the redesign of operations could take a year, leaving some policy priorities and programs adrift.

4 August
Robin Wright: Why Is Donald Trump Still So Horribly Witless About the World?
(The New Yorker) “Trump has an appalling ignorance of the current world, of history, of previous American engagement, of what former Presidents thought and did,” Geoffrey Kemp, who worked at the Pentagon during the Ford Administration and at the National Security Council during the Reagan Administration, reflected. “He has an almost studious rejection of the type of in-depth knowledge that virtually all of his predecessors eventually gained or had views on.”
Criticism of Donald Trump among Democrats who served in senior national-security positions is predictable and rife. But Republicans—who are historically ambitious on foreign policy—are particularly pained by the President’s missteps and misstatements. So are former senior intelligence officials who have avoided publicly criticizing Presidents until now.
‘Death by a thousand cuts’: Empty State Department offices sap morale, some staffers say
(LATimes) Tillerson has embarked on a wide-ranging operation to reorganize Foggy Bottom in ways that worry many foreign policy experts. He has proposed scaling back U.S. support for United Nations peacekeeping missions, plus cutting back offices that deal with refugees, women’s health and climate change.

2 August
Russia Sanctions:Though President Trump signed a bill imposing new sanctions on Russia into law, he also criticized it for “the many ways it improperly encroaches on executive power, disadvantages American companies, and hurts the interests of our European allies.” Indeed, some European leaders worry the sanctions will inadvertently affect their business interests. For its part, Moscow has reacted with an expulsion of U.S. diplomats recalling tactics the Soviet Union used during the Cold War—which were ultimately unsuccessful..

28 July
The War Over Who Controls U.S. Foreign Policy Has Begun
(Foreign Policy) The unprecedented, massive new sanctions bill that Congress sent to President Donald Trump on Thursday is a statement of outrage by legislators over the president’s failure to responsibly carry out foreign policy on Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Fundamentally, it is also an overt effort to seize the national security reins from the president.
As tough as the legislation is, however, serving up venomous financial sanctions is nothing new. The truly remarkable and unprecedented element of this piece of law is an innocuously dubbed “congressional review” of sanctions. It handcuffs the president in his exercise of sanctions by creating elaborate mechanisms for scrutiny and blockade to prevent watering down of Russia policy.
Congress wants the president on a very short leash.
The Generals Can’t Save Us From Trump
(NYT Sunday Review) … there was an expectation that, given Mr. Trump’s apparent affection for all things martial, the generals would eventually take at least some control of foreign policy, especially after General McMaster replaced the wayward Mr. Flynn at the National Security Council.
This has not happened. Instead, Mr. Trump has simply sidelined the security council and its role in coordinating foreign policy, relegating it to on-the-fly improvisation. The generals in the Trump administration still sit outside the president’s inner circle. … Furthermore, most generals — Douglas MacArthur being the rare exception — are acutely aware of the chain of command, and uncomfortable directly challenging the commander in chief.
The generals have failed because for all their acumen, they’re not suited to the job of the nation’s strategic stewards. They’re military men, not statesmen. …
Congress is using its power of the purse to reject Mr. Trump’s drastic cuts in the foreign assistance budget and resist his substantially defunding the State Department. More significantly and unconventionally, it is countering Trump administration policy stances it considers unsound, having passed a resolution reaffirming the American commitment to NATO and voted overwhelmingly to impose new sanctions on Russia.
But even on its best days, Congress is an unreliable and unwieldy mechanism for managing foreign policy, and no substitute for a wise and engaged chief executive and a nimble security council.

4-5 July
Aides’ Biggest Worry on Trump’s Europe Trip: A Meeting With Putin
(NYT) President Trump has been briefed repeatedly. His advisers have alerted him to the web of potential risks, complex issues and diplomatic snags.But even his top aides do not know precisely what Mr. Trump will decide to say or do when he meets President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia face-to-face this week on the sidelines of the Group of 20 economic summit gathering in Hamburg, Germany. And that is what most worries his advisers and officials.
Mr. Trump himself is not troubled by the meeting. He has told aides he is more annoyed by the prospect of being scolded by the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other leaders for pulling out of the Paris climate accords and for his hard line on immigration.

Trump set for crucial diplomatic test in first face-to-face with Putin
(ABC News) President Trump will experience the most crucial diplomatic test of his presidency when he sits down Friday with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit.
… the White House has sought to temper expectations, with a senior administration official telling ABC News that Trump is not likely to put together an agenda for the meeting because it’s expected to be brief. Any agenda the U.S. does have will not be released to the public, an official said. Members of the president’s national security team will join him during the talks.
It’s a striking admission, considering the high-stakes nature of the meeting and Putin’s reputation to meticulously plan and prepare for potential scenarios that would show him having the upper-hand optically.
The president has been receiving briefings on issues that are paramount to the U.S.-Russia relationship and he has received papers prepared by his national security team, an administration official said. Leading up to the trip, Trump has spoken every day with National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, along with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

China-Russia diplomatic double act exposes Trump’s crudeness
Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin vow to work together on peaceful solution to North Korea crisis – in sharp contrast to US president’s sabre-rattling
(The Guardian) The joint declaration reflected a broader, ongoing strategic Sino-Russian alignment that has passed largely unremarked in the west. It has been encouraged by Trump’s often erratic, unfocused behaviour, and the resulting opportunities and dangers arising from weakened American global leadership.
The China-Russia juggernaut is beginning to roll. And like a comic-strip fall-guy with his legs tied to the rails, Trump lies directly in its path.
Russia and China increasingly collaborate on key international issues, frequently voting in unison at the UN security council. The two leaders will travel to Hamburg later this week for the G20 summit, where they will hold separate meetings with Trump.
The Chinese and Russian leaders are also united by the conundrum of how to handle Trump. And both see a chance for advantage. Trump personally appealed for Chinese help on North Korea when he met Xi in Florida in April, and later claimed to have succeeded.
But the White House has since expressed irritation that Beijing is not doing enough. Now Trump faces having his bluff called. He is caught between his bombastic sabre-rattling and his need for a diplomatic “win” that avoids starting a war.

27 June
No great surprise
U.S. Image Plummets Under Trump White House, Pew Survey Says
(Bloomberg) According to a Pew Research Center public survey of 37 countries, a median of just 22 percent of respondents have confidence in Trump to do the right thing in international matters, compared with 64 percent at the end of Barack Obama’s presidency. As a country, the U.S.’s favorable rating fell in the same period to 49 percent from 64 percent.
Israel and Russia were the only countries surveyed where the public prefers Trump to Obama.
Trump was the lowest rated of the world’s major leaders. The survey said a median of 42 percent had confidence in Germany’s Angela Merkel, 28 percent in China’s Xi Jinping, and 27 percent in Russia’s Vladimir Putin.
Pew said the overall view of the U.S., which Pew has followed since 2002, tends to track approval for the president, even if U.S. culture and Americans as people tend to win higher ratings than their leaders. Fifty-eight percent of those polled said they had a favorable opinion of the American people.

25 June
A discouraging look at the current situation at State. Maybe we hoped for too much from Mr. Tillerson, who seemed a relatively good Cabinet pick, at least as compared to others.
Where Trump Zigs, Tillerson Zags, Putting Him at Odds With White House
(NYT) When the former chief executive of Exxon Mobil arrived in Washington, his boosters said he brought two valuable assets to a job that had usually gone to someone steeped in government and diplomacy: a long history managing a global company, and deep relationships from the Middle East to Russia that enabled him to close deals.
But his first opportunity to use that experience — as a behind-the-scenes mediator in the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia — has put Mr. Tillerson in exactly the place a secretary of state does not want to be: in public disagreement with the president who appointed him.

20 June
Syrian Conflict: Over the weekend, the U.S. shot down a Syrian warplane that had targeted U.S.-backed rebels, prompting the government’s Russian allies to declare they would treat American aircraft as targets in Syria. During his campaign, President Trump had promised to avoid an intervention in Syria. But now, the tangled international conflict surrounding the long civil war is escalating, increasing the U.S.’s risk of a direct clash with Iran.

11 June
How Trump’s actions and tone affect US alliances and perception on global stage
Trump’s foreign policy approach has stunned observers, but recent weeks have underscored potential ramifications of his loose rhetoric and abrupt policy shifts
(The Guardian) Since taking office in January, Trump has repeatedly stunned observers both at home and abroad with his irreverence for American foreign policy norms and unconventional approach to relations with allies and foes alike. But recent weeks have underscored, even according to some within his own party, the potential ramifications of the president’s loose rhetoric and abrupt policy shifts.
9 June
Qatar Confusion: President Trump assailed Qatar for funding terrorism “at a very high level,” just hours after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called on Arab countries to ease their blockade on the Gulf nation. Trump’s remarks, which come less than a week after six countries moved to sever ties with Qatar over its alleged support of extremist groups, are not the first contradictory comments to be offered by the U.S. since the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf began, and make it difficult to determine what exactly U.S. policy on Qatar is.

7 June
Trump Has Busy Day in Vortex of Middle East Relations
(NYT) Mr. Trump thrust himself into the messy politics of Persian Gulf states, trying to also play peacemaker in a bitter dispute between Qatar and other Sunni Muslim neighbors that threatens to splinter a Middle Eastern alliance fighting the Islamic State.
Wednesday served as a reminder that the world does not operate in the black-and-white terms that Mr. Trump used on the campaign trail and on Twitter, one in which the Sunni-dominated Islamic State and Shiite Iran are part of a continuum of “radical Islamic extremism.” …
Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson … asked Saudi officials to list the demands they want Doha to meet in return for an end to the dispute, and lift a newly imposed embargo against Qatar by Saudi Arabia, Egypt and several other states.

1 June
Michael Grunwald: Why Trump Actually Pulled Out Of Paris
It wasn’t because of the climate, or to help American business. He needed to troll the world—and this was his best shot so far.
(Politico) Trump’s abrupt withdrawal from this carefully crafted multilateral compromise was a diplomatic and political slap: It was about extending a middle finger to the world, while reminding his base that he shares its resentments of fancy-pants elites and smarty-pants scientists and tree-hugging squishes who look down on real Americans who drill for oil and dig for coal. He was thrusting the United States into the role of global renegade, rejecting not only the scientific consensus about climate but the international consensus for action. …
the earth is still warming, the polar ice caps are still melting, and the seas are still rising, heedless of the inspiring words committed to paper in Paris, and just as heedless of a noisy American politician’s decision to reject them. Trump may believe climate change is a hoax manufactured in China, and congressional Republicans may continue to oppose any action to address it, but that won’t make the physical realities of climate-driven droughts, floods, pandemics and refugee migrations any less brutal…. no matter what he thinks, it matters more that he’s announcing to the nations of the world that he intends to ignore an issue they consider vital to the planet. He is creating an intentional leadership vacuum, dispensing with the long-standing notion of the United States as the indispensable nation—just as he did when he withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal in Asia, with his tepid commitments to NATO on his trip to Europe, and with his proposal for drastic budget cuts in foreign aid and international diplomacy. He is making it clear that America First means the problems of the world are not America’s problems. He’s opening the door for China and Europe to take over the role of global leaders on climate change, and maybe the world’s other major problems.

31 May
Trump’s ‘Arab NATO’ Vision is a Desert Mirage
By Reva Goujon
(Stratfor) Ever since Teddy Roosevelt began a tradition of overseas state visits when he headed to Panama to check on his canal project in 1906, American presidents have chosen the destination of their first overseas visit with foreign policy theater in mind. The majority, from Dwight D. Eisenhower to Barack Obama, stayed close to home to focus on North America or the Caribbean Basin. Others, from Woodrow Wilson to Jimmy Carter, crossed the Atlantic amid wars hot and cold. Donald Trump, however, is the first to choose the Middle East for his foreign debut. His reach, in this case, may well exceed his grasp, especially when it comes to the concept of building an “Arab NATO” to manage the region. (Paywall)

24-27 May

Trump is only G7 leader not to hold press conference after summit
(The Hill) Trump instead gives a speech (Trump at conclusion of first foreign trip: ‘I think we hit a home run’) at the Sigonella Naval Air Station in Sigonella, Italy following the G7 summit. The speech reaffirmed the president’s support of the military, and thanked them for their service ahead of Memorial Day.
The Trump administration did offer a press briefing after the summit by the president’s National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. The briefing, which was given off-camera but on-the-record, took place around the same time other world leaders offered their post-summit press conferences.

A propos Trump’s ‘home run’, not everyone agrees: see Der Spiegel editorial: A Danger to the World It’s Time to Get Rid of Donald Trump
Donald Trump has transformed the United States into a laughing stock and he is a danger to the world. He must be removed from the White House before things get even worse.

Worried by Trump, G7 sees a bright side: he showed up
The U.S. president didn’t sign up to the Paris accords but fellow leaders feel it could all have been much worse
(Politico Eu) while U.S. President Donald Trump’s unpredictable positions on climate change and free trade have imperiled the group’s unity as never before, his counterparts were heartened that Trump showed up at all.That’s how low the bar has been set: points for attendance.
European Council President Donald Tusk had predicted it would be “the most challenging G7 summit in years.” And in many ways, it was, with leaders forced to issue a declaration in which six of the seven reaffirmed their “strong commitment” to the Paris accord on climate change. Trump, the seventh, was still thinking about it.

A pictures IS worth a thousand words

Trump confirms Europe’s worst fears
Worried continental leaders discover that the U.S. president’s brash and unpredictable persona is not an act.
(Politico Eu) For Europe, any remaining embers of hope that Trump could be reasoned with were doused in Brussels.

Donald Trump’s Flying Circus
(Project Syndicate) With his mounting domestic scandals in tow, Donald Trump spent the past week overseas, on his first foreign trip as US president. Despite the cordial welcome Trump received from America’s allies, it is becoming increasingly clear that US global leadership will suffer under his administration.
As Trump’s domestic challenges piled up, he traveled abroad for the first time as president, visiting Saudi Arabia, Israel, NATO headquarters in Belgium, the Vatican, and Italy for a meeting of the G7. And, as one might expect, Trump’s meetings with world leaders highlighted questions about the future of America’s international role that are no less pressing than those his presidency faces at home – questions that Project Syndicate commentators have been addressing with ever greater urgency during these weeks of mounting political uncertainty.

Trump and Obama Visited Europe. One Got a Warm Welcome.
(NYT) Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany started Thursday in Berlin with the 44th president — the one she has called “dear Barack.” She spent the afternoon in Brussels with the 45th, Donald J. Trump, whose election she greeted with a stern reminder to respect shared values like equality and freedom.
Mr. Obama was in Berlin to help celebrate 500 years since Martin Luther’s Reformation, and received a rock-star welcome from tens of thousands at the Brandenburg Gate. It was all bonhomie, waves and warm words, as the former president praised Ms. Merkel’s “outstanding work, not just here but around the world,” particularly with refugees.
Barely two hours later, Ms. Merkel was among the European leaders who greeted Mr. Trump coolly at NATO headquarters in Brussels, where few casual words, let alone warm ones, were exchanged, as the new American president once again castigated allies for not paying their fair share of bills.
For Europeans, the juxtaposition served as an unavoidable reminder of the contrasts between the men — their personal styles, their relations with America’s allies and the values and priorities they embody.

It seems that Trump prefers to make nice with the dictators, potentates and others of the Middle East than to extend even courtesy to traditional allies
President Trump Fails NATO
(NYT editorial) Instead of explicitly endorsing the mutual defense pledge at the heart of the alliance, Mr. Trump lectured the members for falling short on pledges to spend 2 percent of their gross domestic products on the military, much as he had hectored them on this subject during his presidential campaign. There were signs, too, that Mr. Trump and the allies remain at odds over Russia, which is deeply unsettling given mounting questions about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
What possesses him to treat America’s allies so badly? The NATO nations are mostly democracies with vibrant free markets that have helped America keep enemies at bay, including in Afghanistan. The question is made all the more pressing in view of Mr. Trump’s enthusiastic embrace of countless autocrats, among them Vladimir Putin of Russia and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, where he just paid a deferential visit and assured Sunni Arab leaders that “we are not here to lecture” despite their abominable records on human rights.
In NATO Speech, Trump Is Vague About Mutual Defense Pledge
(NYT) President Trump on Thursday punctured any illusions that he was on a fence-mending tour of Europe, declining to explicitly endorse NATO’s mutual defense pledge and lashing out at fellow members for what he called their “chronic underpayments” to the alliance.
On a tense day when Mr. Trump brought the “America first” themes of his presidential campaign to the very heart of Europe, he left European leaders visibly unsettled, with some openly lamenting divisions with the United States on trade, climate and the best way to confront Russia.
The split was starkest at NATO headquarters, where Mr. Trump used the dedication of a soaring new building to lecture allies on their financial contributions. Far from robustly reaffirming NATO’s mutual defense commitment in the way that many members hoped he would, Mr. Trump repeated his complaint that the United States was shouldering an unfair burden.
During a photo-taking session, none of them spoke to Mr. Trump, except for the secretary general of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg. Afterward, several surrounded Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany, who has emerged as the strongest counterweight to the president.
Earlier in the day, Mr. Trump, a blunt critic of the European Union during his campaign, received a chilly reception from his European counterparts as they began meetings in Brussels.
His first meeting with the Continent’s leaders began with officials from the United States and Europe saying nothing to each other. After being welcomed to Brussels, Mr. Trump said, “Thank you very much,” but he was otherwise silent as he gazed at the cameras across the room.
See also excellent round-up in Washington Post WorldView

(Quartz) The US challenged Beijing’s claim in the South China Sea. In the first such action under Trump, the US sent a warship within 12 nautical miles of the Spratly archipelago’s Mischief Reef, atop of which China has built one of its militarized artificial islands. The move was long expected. Going against international law and norms, China claims nearly all of the sea as its own.

24 May
Colin Powell: American Leadership — We Can’t Do It for Free
(NYT Op-Ed) At our best, being a great nation has always meant a commitment to building a better, safer world — not just for ourselves, but for our children and grandchildren. This has meant leading the world in advancing the cause of peace, responding when disease and disaster strike, lifting millions out of poverty and inspiring those yearning for freedom.
This calling is under threat.
The administration’s proposal, announced Tuesday, to slash approximately 30 percent from the State Department and foreign assistance budget signals an American retreat, leaving a vacuum that would make us far less safe and prosperous. While it may sound penny-wise, it is pound-foolish. … we’re strongest when the face of America isn’t only a soldier carrying a gun but also a diplomat negotiating peace, a Peace Corps volunteer bringing clean water to a village or a relief worker stepping off a cargo plane as floodwaters rise. While I am all for reviewing, reforming and strengthening the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development, proposals to zero out economic and development assistance in more than 35 countries would effectively lower our flag at our outposts around the world and make us far less safe.
Diplomacy and aid aren’t the only self-defeating cuts in the administration’s proposal. A call to all but eliminate two key export-promotion agencies — the Overseas Private Investment Corporation and the Trade and Development Agency — would harm thousands of American workers and actually add to the deficit. And any cuts to our economic development investments in Africa and elsewhere would undermine our ability to build new customer bases in the world’s fastest-growing markets.

21 May
Robert Fisk: Donald Trump’s speech to the Muslim world was filled with hypocrisy and condescension
Despite claiming he wouldn’t give a lecture, the President did just that, displaying a blatant anti-Iran bias intended to appease the nation with whom he’d just signed a multi-billion dollar arms deal at the expense of the truth

19 May
Donald Trump goes on tour. The US president touches down today in Saudi Arabia in the midst of a power struggle between two princes eying King Salman’s throne. Trump will deliver a potentially fraught speech about Islam before visiting the centers of two other great world religions, Israel and Rome
JUST IN: Donald Trump Wants To Shorten His Overseas Trip, Is “Expressing Dread” Over Traveling For So Long
(NYT) Mr. Trump, a confirmed homebody, has expressed dread about the trip, asking aides whether it can be shortened to five days from nine. His advisers concede that the intense schedule — dozens of interactions with leaders from the Middle East and Europe, over a range of delicate issues — could produce unscripted, diplomatically perilous moments.

17 May
Stephen Miller Is Writing the Big Speech on Islam That Trump Is Delivering in Saudi Arabia
(New York Magazine) The bad news is that if Trump’s amazing propensity for verbal indiscipline strikes again, it could have diplomatic repercussions.
Then, when considering odds of that latter outcome, keep in mind that Trump will be making a speech on Islam in Saudi Arabia, before an audience of representatives of more than 50 Muslim countries.
Yes, that’s right: The president, a man who has espoused openly Islamophobic views and is known for his less-than-subtle thinking and speaking, will go to the birthplace of the religion, as a guest of a regime whose entire legitimacy derives from its role as the guardian of Islam’s Holy Places, and presume to lecture Muslims on their obligation to fight “radical Islam.”
Trump is already, according to Politico, in danger of blundering into what it calls a “Saudi Game of Thrones” between two princely aspirants to the succession of aging King Salman. Tossing pronouncements on religion into that tinderbox could be a very bad idea.

16 May
Donald Trump and Russia: Loose lips
(The Economist) This morning Mr Trump tweeted that he had shared “facts” about terrorism with Russia’s foreign minister and ambassador. The tweets came after his staff denied reports that he had revealed classified information during the meeting. The president can declassify intelligence at will. If he did, he may not only have endangered lives, but also wrecked America’s credibility as an intelligence partner. … Before this latest scandal, the president was looking forward to putting his troubles behind him on his first overseas trip; he is due to visit Saudi Arabia and Israel later this week, before attending meetings of NATO and the G7 in Belgium and Italy. But the Post’s allegations, if not disproved, seem likely to travel with him.
Even before Mr Trump’s inauguration, in January, Israeli officials were reported to be concerned that his administration could not be trusted with sensitive material. According to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper, they feared “the exposure of classified information to their American counterparts under a Trump administration could lead to their being leaked to Russia and onward to Iran”.
White House scrambles to limit damage
(The Hill) The White House scrambled on Tuesday to limit the damage from President Trump’s latest controversy — allegations that he revealed highly-classified information during an Oval Office meeting with Russian officials.
National security adviser H.R. McMaster sought to defuse the situation, insisting on nine separate occasions that the discussions were “wholly appropriate” and amounted to a normal exchange of information.
But McMaster raised new questions when he suggested that Trump could not have compromised intelligence sources or methods because the president “wasn’t even aware of” the source of the information he discussed with the Russians.
Israeli intelligence ‘boiling mad’ over Trump disclosure: report
Two Israeli intelligence officers confirmed to BuzzFeed Tuesday that Israel had shared specific intelligence with the U.S. about Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) plots to smuggle explosive laptops onto planes.
“We have an arrangement with America which is unique to the world of intelligence sharing,” one intelligence officer told BuzzFeed. “We do not have this relationship with any other country.”
“To know that this intelligence is shared with others, without our prior knowledge? That is, for us, our worst fears confirmed,” the officer added.
(The Atlantic) White House Bombshells: In the aftermath of The Washington Post’s report that President Trump divulged top-secret information to Russian officials, National-Security Adviser H.R. McMaster issued a contradictory defense, claiming that Trump’s actions were “wholly appropriate,” and that he didn’t know where the information came from. Most of Trump’s defenders have emphasized that he didn’t know what he was doing. For his part, Trump tweeted that he wanted to share “facts pertaining to terrorism” with Russia, which, writes Julia Ioffe, could mean he’s playing into Putin’s hands. The consequences of this slip may be severe: It’s a breach of faith with the intelligence community and with U.S. allies. Meanwhile, another revelation: A memo from James Comey reportedly quotes Trump asking the former FBI director to drop the investigation of Michael Flynn. Now, Congress wants to hear from Comey directly.

15 May
As Noah Bierman reports, Trump no longer behaves like a president eager to disengage from the world and from the postwar alliances of the last seven decades that he so denigrated as a candidate. Trump’s debut abroad is a big test of just what he means by “America first.”
There will be enough in that whirlwind trip beginning Friday — stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe, not to mention a meeting with the pope — to fill several news cycles.

12 May
A Vision of Trump at War
How the President Could Stumble Into Conflict
Maybe Trump is right that a massive military buildup, a reputation for unpredictability, a high-stakes negotiating style, and a refusal to compromise will convince other countries to make concessions that will make America safe, prosperous, and great again. But then again, maybe he’s wrong.
(Foreign Affairs May/June)) Just a few months into the Trump administration, it still isn’t clear what course the president’s foreign policy will ultimately take. What is clear, however, is that the impulsiveness, combativeness, and recklessness that characterized Donald Trump’s election campaign have survived the transition into the presidency. Since taking office, Trump has continued to challenge accepted norms, break with diplomatic traditions, and respond to perceived slights or provocations with insults or threats of his own. The core of his foreign policy message is that the United States will no longer allow itself to be taken advantage of by friends or foes abroad. After decades of “losing” to other countries, he says he is going to put “America first” and start winning again.
The problem, however, is that negotiations sometimes fail, and adversaries are themselves often brazen and unpredictable. After all, Nixon’s madman theory—designed to force the North Vietnamese to compromise—did not work. Moreover, putting the theory into practice requires the capacity to act judiciously at the appropriate moment, something that Trump, as president, has yet to demonstrate. And whereas a failed business deal allows both parties to walk away unscathed if disappointed, a failed diplomatic gambit can lead to political instability, costly trade disputes, the proliferation of dangerous weapons, or even war. History is littered with examples of leaders who, like Trump, came to power fueled by a sense of national grievance and promises to force adversaries into submission, only to end up mired in a military, diplomatic, or economic conflict they would come to regret. … there is a real risk [of] a future in which Trump’s erratic style and confrontational policies destroy an already fragile world order and lead to open conflict—in the most likely cases, with Iran, China, or North Korea.

1 May
(The Atlantic) Trump also raised eyebrows by inviting Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines whose drug crackdown has resulted in thousands of vigilante killings, to visit the White House. Today, Trump added to the uncertainty over his North Korea policy by saying he would meet with Kim Jong Un “under the right circumstances.”
Gwynne Dyer: The playbook is back in Washington
In politics, the Law of Mixed Motives always applies. No doubt Trump was truly horrified by the images of dead “beautiful babies,” but he was also aware that his policy successes in the first hundred days were sparse and that his popular approval numbers were way down.
So off went the cruise missiles, although the evidence that the Assad regime was responsible for the gas attack was even less certain than last time. It was purely a gesture, aimed mainly at the U.S. domestic audience, and there has been no follow-up. But it did conform to the playbook’s rules, and the response by the “lamestream” media verged on the ecstatic.
Trump doesn’t give a fig for the playbook, but he does care about popularity. He campaigned as an isolationist, but now he has discovered that a little sabre-rattling abroad yields instant popularity at home.
He is surrounded by people who still believe in the playbook, and they now know how to press his buttons. There will probably be more “limited” military strikes with cruise missiles, not just in the Middle East but also in north-east Asia. And there may well be more wars, because sabre-rattling is not a precise science.

27 April
Trade, Wars: Last night, Trump backed away from reports that he was considering a U.S. withdrawal from NAFTA, stating he would renegotiate the trade deal instead. When it comes to his other foreign-policy problems, he has a few options for what to do about North Korea, but they all have cooperation with China in common. Meanwhile, attention to his strike on Syria earlier this month has faded, even though its slim legal justifications may be an ominous sign.

13 April
U.S. military drops 22,000-pound bomb on Islamic State forces in Afghanistan
The U.S. military has targeted similar complexes and dropped tens of thousands of bombs in Afghanistan, raising the question of why a bomb of this size was needed Thursday. It was unclear what the GBU-43 strike accomplished, as the bomb is not designed to penetrate hardened targets such as bunkers or cave complexes.

12 April
Robert Fisk: Donald Trump, who doesn’t read books, is ignorant of history – and so is his pet chump Sean Spicer
Gas, cruise missiles, barrel bombs, Hitler and the American media. Mix them all up and I suppose you get Trump’s new policy in the Middle East.
(The Independent) There is no policy – because the President appears deranged, because most of his colleagues are barking, and because Washington no more cares about the Arab world when Syrians are gassed than it does when the Egyptian President “disappears” his own people, or when the Saudis bomb civilians in Yemen, or when US-supported Iraqi forces kill civilians trapped in Isis-held western Mosul.

6-8 April
David Frum: Seven Lessons From Trump’s Syria Strike
The attack raises a series of questions about the president’s approach to America’s political processes and institutions.
(The Atlantic) Voters and citizens can expect literally zero advance warning of what Donald Trump will do or won’t do. Campaign promises, solemn pledges—none are even slightly binding. If he can reverse himself on Syria, he can reverse himself on anything. If you feel betrayed by any of these reversals, you have no right to complain.
The Emerging Trump Doctrine: Don’t Follow Doctrine
By Peter Baker
(NYT) As he confronted a series of international challenges from the Middle East to Asia last week, President Trump made certain that nothing was certain about his foreign policy. To the extent that a Trump Doctrine is emerging, it seems to be this: don’t get roped in by doctrine.
In a week in which he hosted foreign heads of state and launched a cruise missile strike against Syria’s government, Mr. Trump dispensed with his own dogma and forced other world leaders to re-examine their assumptions about how the United States will lead in this new era. He demonstrated a highly improvisational and situational approach that could inject a risky unpredictability into relations with potential antagonists, but he also opened the door to a more traditional American engagement with the world that eases allies’ fears.
As a private citizen and candidate, Mr. Trump spent years arguing that Syria’s civil war was not America’s problem, that Russia should be a friend, and that China was an “enemy” whose leaders should not be invited to dinner. As president, Mr. Trump, in the space of just days, involved America more directly in the Syrian morass than ever before, opened a new acrimonious rift with Russia, and invited China’s leader for a largely convivial, let’s-get-along dinner at his Florida estate.
59 Missiles Don’t Equal a Foreign Policy
The administration’s inability or refusal to articulate — or even formulate — an overarching foreign policy beyond Mr. Trump’s nationalistic slogan “America First” and his plans to spend billions rebuilding the military are the major sources of the problem
The apparent disconnect between Nikki Haley, Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, and the White House has also added to the disarray. Ms. Haley has articulated politically popular positions that conflict with the White House, taking a harder line on Russia and emphasizing the importance of human rights even as the White House has downplayed the issue. Whatever her motivations, the messages have been mixed. And that can only give heart to dictators who view inconsistency as weakness.
The Trump Doctrine: Unpredictability and Incoherence
(New York) The missile launch is also not about attacking ISIS. It actually attacks one of ISIS’s direst foes. It represents a complete U-turn from Trump’s previous position that Obama should never have intervened in Syria at all — a position he believed in so strongly, he tweeted endlessly about it at the time. The attack risks our becoming more involved in a Middle Eastern civil war — another position Trump constantly derided for years and in the campaign. It will disrupt Trump’s hope for a rapprochement with Russia (although he pointedly avoided a wider attack that would almost certainly have killed Russians as well as Syrians) — another turn on an emotional dime. It follows his decision to increase the U.S. involvement in Yemen’s Shiite-Sunni civil war, involvement that was never even presented to the Congress, and that killed, among many other civilians, ten children. The candidate who promised to avoid military conflict in the Middle East has reversed himself and become an interventionist — if only from a safe distance.
David Sanger: Striking at Assad Carries Opportunities, and Risks, for Trump
(NYT) In launching a military strike just 77 days into his administration, President Trump has the opportunity, but hardly a guarantee, to change the perception of disarray in his administration.
The attack will also shape the meeting next week between Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia — the first face-to-face encounter between the Russian leader and a member of the Trump administration.
… the Syria action gives the Trump administration an opportunity to demand that Mr. Putin either contain or remove Syria’s leader, Bashar al-Assad, or else Mr. Trump will expand the limited American military action — and quickly — if the Russian president fails to do so.
… The first risk is that his gambit with Mr. Putin fails. The Russian leader … is not likely to enter into an agreement that threatens his influence over Syria, and thus his main foothold in the Middle East. Syria is home to Russia’s main military base outside its own borders.
A second risk is that Mr. Trump, in taking a shot at Mr. Assad, undercuts his own main goal in the region: defeating the Islamic State.
If Syria collapses, it could become a haven for Islamic terrorists, the exact situation that Mr. Trump is trying to prevent.

10 March
Ambassador_Jon_HuntsmanJon Huntsman Is Said to Accept Post as Ambassador to Russia
(NYT) Mr. Huntsman, a former Republican governor of Utah, served as former President Barack Obama’s ambassador to China from 2009 to 2011.
(CNN) Huntsman in exile: Did appointment make way for Hatch?

3 March
Roger Cohen: Trump’s Many Shades of Contempt
(NYT) Let’s start with the utter contempt that President Trump has shown for the State Department since taking office six weeks ago. Some 70,000 American patriots across the globe, dedicated to the American idea as a force for good in the world, have been cast adrift.
Rex Tillerson, the secretary of state, is a near phantom. He has no deputy, having seen his first choice nixed by Trump. No State Department press briefing, once a daily occurrence, has been held since Trump took office. The president has proposed a 37 percent cut in the State Department budget. An exodus of senior staff members continues. The State Department has taken on a ghostly air.
The message is clear. America has no foreign policy so nobody is needed to articulate it. All we have are the feverish zigzags of the president, a man who thinks NATO is obsolete one day and glorious the next. There is no governing idea, only transactional hollowness. One midlevel officer told Julia Ioffe of The Atlantic: “It’s reminiscent of the developing countries where I’ve served. The family rules everything, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs knows nothing.”
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has become the foreign service of the United States of America.

17 February
Quartz weekend summary: This week the US president appeared to ditch a 20-year-old tenet of American policy—that for peace to come, the Palestinians must get their own independent state alongside Israel. But, as has happened on other issues, his own officials immediately appeared to contradict him: First his UN ambassador, then even his hawkish nominee for ambassador to Tel Aviv, insisted that a two-state solution is still the goal. Trump has also vacillated about Israeli settlement-building in the West Bank and whether to move the US embassy to Jerusalem … The main thing to take from this week’s statement is that, as with other foreign-policy issues—“One China,” Crimea, NAFTA—the White House is making things up on the fly, casually discarding US policies crafted over decades and then backtracking when it meets resistance. This kind of behavior may be giving Russia’s Vladimir Putin, who uses unpredictability as a deliberate policy tool, a taste of his own medicine (paywall). But it doesn’t make for good foreign relationships, a strong United States, or a safe world.
steve-bannon-jared-kushnerPhotograph: Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP
Report: State Department Shut Out of Netanyahu Talks
(The Daily Beast) Not a single representative from the State Department was reportedly present for White House meetings with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week. Instead, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, who has no diplomatic experience or regional expertise, was given a central role in the meeting, according to a CBS News report late Thursday. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Tom Shannon … reportedly was shut completely out of the White House gathering. The news comes as nearly an entire floor of State Department personnel were reportedly laid off Thursday, amid continued confusion as the Trump administration moves in at Washington’s central diplomatic institution. As Tillerson was making his first trip abroad in the post—in Germany for the G-20 summit—longtime staffers for the Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources and the Counselor (sic) offices were being dismissed, raising fears of politically motivated reprisals and additional losses of expertise at a time when many high-ranking State jobs have gone unfilled.

16 February
Out of the loop: Rex Tillerson finds state department sidelined by White House
America’s top diplomat is operating with senior staff positions left vacant, his deputy vetoed and foreign policy made by an ideological clique around Trump
Rex Tillerson began his first foreign outing as US secretary of state on Thursday, meeting counterparts from G20 countries in Bonn, but he has left behind in Washington a department that is severely weakened and cut out of key policy decisions.
Since starting the job two weeks ago, Tillerson, a former ExxonMobil executive, has soothed nerves at the state department by consulting widely with regional and country experts, but it has been hard to disguise the gap between the department headquarters at Washington’s Foggy Bottom and the White House where far-reaching foreign policy decisions are being made.
… The NSC itself is being bypassed on key decisions by a small group of highly ideological advisers around Trump led by his chief strategist, Steve Bannon, a former Breitbart News executive with ties to the far right. Bannon has presented his role as one of a deliberate disruptor of the Washington establishment and its normal ways of functioning.

2 February
Trump defends chaotic foreign policy: ‘We’re going to straighten it out, OK?’
US president describes a world ‘in trouble’ in speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, amid a growing number of disputes with foreign leaders
Donald Trump defended his unpredictable approach to foreign policy, which has shaken the political establishment and roiled activists across the country, during a speech at the annual interfaith prayer breakfast in Washington on Thursday.
“The world is in trouble – but we’re going to straighten it out, OK?” Trump said at the National Prayer Breakfast, gesturing his hands for emphasis.
“That’s what I do. I fix things. We’re going to straighten it out. Believe me. When you hear about the tough phone calls I’m having – don’t worry about it. Just don’t worry about it. They’re tough. We have to be tough, it’s time we’re going to be a little bit tough, folks. We’re taken advantage by every nation in the world, virtually. It’s not going to happen any more.”

27 January
Nikki Haley Puts U.N. on Notice: U.S. Is ‘Taking Names’
The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, issued a stark warning Friday to allies and rivals abroad, saying in her first remarks at the headquarters of the world body that the Trump administration would hold to account those who do not back the United States.
Trump Is Already Damaging the Ability of the State Department to Function
(Foreign Policy) [W]hat is happening these days at the State Department — where a slew of senior career diplomats and management professionals have been given the non-choice between resigning effective Friday and being summarily relieved of their duties and where several others have retired voluntarily — is different and could be damaging. These are not, for the most part, people who have any role in implementing signature Obama administration policies on which the new team has signaled a different direction, like the Iran nuclear deal, fighting climate change, addressing women’s issues globally, or managing the conflict between the Israelis and Palestinians.
Rather, many of the officials set to depart in the coming days are responsible for bread-and-butter diplomatic and bureaucratic work that benefits all Americans and should be beyond the reach of politics. They oversaw the production of 19 million U.S. passports last year, the second highest annual total in American history. They helped return some 300 children abducted abroad to their rightful American parents. They are responsible for arranging visas for foreign nationals who come to the United States to do business or spend tourism dollars. They oversee security for more than 275 diplomatic posts overseas. They executed Obama’s decision to close Russian diplomatic facilities in response to interference in our election. They make good on our commitment to transparency by processing an unprecedented volume of document requests under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). And they arrange for the evacuation of American citizens amid, for example, medical emergencies or burgeoning foreign crises.

26 January
Mr. Tillerson’s job just got a whole lot harder
The State Department’s entire senior administrative team just resigned
(WaPost) Suddenly on Wednesday afternoon, long-serving undersecretary for management, Patrick Kennedy, and three of his top officials resigned unexpectedly, four State Department officials confirmed. Assistant Secretary of State for Administration Joyce Anne Barr, Assistant Secretary of State for Consular Affairs Michele Bond and Ambassador Gentry O. Smith, director of the Office of Foreign Missions, followed him out the door. In addition, Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr retired Jan. 20, and the director of the Bureau of Overseas Building Operations, Lydia Muniz, departed the same day. That amounts to a near-complete housecleaning of all the senior officials that deal with managing the State Department, its overseas posts and its people.

25 January

Trump Prepares Orders Aiming at Global Funding and Treaties

The Trump administration is preparing executive orders that would clear the way to drastically reduce the United States’ role in the United Nations and other international organizations, as well as begin a process to review and potentially abrogate certain forms of multilateral treaties.
The first of the two draft orders, titled “Auditing and Reducing U.S. Funding of International Organizations” and obtained by The New York Times, calls for terminating funding for any United Nations agency or other international body that meets any one of several criteria.
Those criteria include organizations that give full membership to the Palestinian Authority or Palestine Liberation Organization, or support programs that fund abortion or any activity that circumvents sanctions against Iran or North Korea. The draft order also calls for terminating funding for any organization that “is controlled or substantially influenced by any state that sponsors terrorism” or is blamed for the persecution of marginalized groups or any other systematic violation of human rights.
The order calls for then enacting “at least a 40 percent overall decrease” in remaining United States funding toward international organizations.
America’s New President Is Not a Rational Actor
Whether by accident or design, Donald Trump is isolating himself and erratically unraveling the world order.
By Stephen M. Walt
(Foreign Policy) I’ll hazard two guesses. First, foreign and defense policies are going to be a train wreck, because they don’t have enough good people in place, the people they have appointed don’t agree on some pretty big issues (e.g., NATO), the foreign-policy “blob” will undercut them at every turn, and Trump himself lacks the discipline or strategic vision to manage this process and may not care to try. Even if you agree with his broad approach, his team is going to make a lot more rookie mistakes before they figure out what they are doing.
Second, get ready for a lot of unexpected developments and unintended consequences. If the United States is giving up its self-appointed role as the “indispensable nation” and opting instead for “America First,” a lot of other countries will have to rethink their policies, alignments, and commitments. Unraveling a long-standing order is rarely a pretty process, especially when it happens quickly and is driven not by optimism but by anger, fear, and resentment. I’ve long favored a more restrained U.S. grand strategy, but I also believed that that process had to be done carefully and above all strategically. That doesn’t appear to be President Trump’s approach to anything, which means we are in for a very bumpy ride to an unknown destination.

20 January
Paul Heinbecker: Trump’s toxic world view is blind to history
(Globe & Mail) How Mr. Trump’s encouragement of nativism and xenophobia in Germany and the rise of the extreme right in Europe, while ignoring Russian transgressions, is in anyone’s interests, including especially the United States’ interests, is difficult to fathom.
A few more months of tweeting will undo decades of U.S. achievement and dismantle a painstakingly constructed international system. To paraphrase Marx, he who forgets (or never learns) the lessons of history is doomed to repeat them and not as farce but as tragedy. Who will tutor the new president of the United States before it is too late?

12 January
What kind of threat does Russia pose to the U.S.?
President-elect Trump has said he would like to improve relations with Russia. But his choice for defense secretary, Gen. James Mattis, views Russia as America’s number one threat. What’s the reality of the White House-Kremlin dynamic? Steve Inskeep discusses with Evelyn Farkas, a former Defense Department official, and Michael McFaul, former U.S. ambassador to Russia.
Mattis breaks with Trump on Iran, Russia
Secretary of Defense pick says U.S. must stick with nuke deal, confront Putin.
Breaking with President-elect Donald Trump, James Mattis said Thursday in his confirmation hearing to be defense secretary that he supports a permanent U.S. military presence in the Baltics to deter Russia — and reiterated that he believes the U.S. must stick to the Iran nuclear deal even if it is flawed.
In Senate hearings, Mattis and Pompeo differ over Iran nuclear deal
(PBS Newshour) Gen. James Mattis was well received by the Senate Armed Services Committee, with whom he discussed threats from China and the Islamic State, as well as women in combat roles. In front of the Senate Intelligence Committee, Mike Pompeo disavowed “enhanced interrogation” techniques. Both nominees also addressed the Iran nuclear deal.
James Mattis: I think it is an imperfect arms control agreement. It’s not a friendship treaty. But when America gives her word, we have to live up to it.
Mike Pompeo: It was my view that the JCPOA was a mistake for American national security.

11 January
How Trump’s Attacks on U.S. Intelligence Will Come Back to Haunt Him
(Politico) No American president can succeed in foreign policy—and by extension his term as commander-in-chief—without a good relationship with the intelligence community.
Considering the crowd around him, it may not be long before Trump asks, for example, for covert options to destabilize the Iranian regime. The answer from the intel community will never be no. Instead, the planners will brief the president on three different approaches. Then they will assess the risk of failure for each at 60-80 percent, providing the Oval Office with a dare it cannot possibly accept. For some, of course, this could turn out to be a silver lining in otherwise dismal story.
President-elect Trump has shown distinctive tastes in world leaders, quoting Benito Mussolini approvingly, openly admiring Putin and lauding Saddam Hussein’s counterterrorism efforts. Another figure who fits well into this lineup is the totalitarian Josef Stalin, who also ignored and disparaged the foreign intelligence that was brought to him, especially the assessments in 1940-1941 about a Nazi buildup on Soviet Russia’s borders. That didn’t work out too well for Stalin and his people. Trump might ponder that.

5 January
It’s clear why Trump wants Exxon’s ex-CEO, but not why the ex-CEO wants him
(Quartz) Steve LeVine on the imminent frustrations of Trump secretary of state nominee Rex Tillerson: “A meticulous preparer in the tradition of every Exxon executive before him, Tillerson would likely find the shoot-from-the-hip Trump disrupting the works with very unExxon-like, hunch-based tweets… One wonders how long Tillerson will be contented working for the notoriously unruly, unread, and uncouth president-elect.”
A looming question for the senators will be: When Tillerson is chatting up Putin ostensibly in support of American national interests, to what degree will the potential jackpot to accrue to his friends at Exxon, and a desire therefore not to upset Russia’s leader, be part of his calculus?
In Break With Precedent, Obama Envoys Are Denied Extensions Past Inauguration Day
President-elect Donald J. Trump’s transition staff has issued a blanket edict requiring politically appointed ambassadors to leave their overseas posts by Inauguration Day, according to several American diplomats familiar with the plan, breaking with decades of precedent by declining to provide even the briefest of grace periods.
The mandate — issued “without exceptions,” according to a terse State Department cable sent on Dec. 23, diplomats who saw it said — threatens to leave the United States without Senate-confirmed envoys for months in critical nations like Germany, Canada and Britain.

27 December 2016
UN just a club to have a good time, says Donald Trump
(The Australian) Days after the UN voted to condemn Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, Donald Trump has questioned its effectiveness, saying it’s just a club for people to “have a good time”.
The president-elect tweeted yesterday the UN had “such great potential,” but it had become “just a club for people to get together, talk and have a good time. So sad!”
On Saturday, Mr Trump warned, “As to the UN, things will be different after Jan. 20th,” referring to the day he takes office.
24 December
Uri Avnery: Don’t Send Him!
DONALD TRUMP has spat in my face.
Not only in my own face, but in the faces of at least half the Israeli population.
He has appointed a bankruptcy lawyer named David Friedman to the job of US ambassador in Israel.
FIRST OF all, it is bad practice to appoint an ambassador to a country with which he has a deep personal connection. You don’t send a Cuban-American Castro-hater to be the US ambassador in Havana. You don’t send Kuomintang Chinese from Taiwan to be US ambassador in Beijing.
True, it is not the first time an American Jew has been appointed ambassador to Israel. There have been two or three, who could just as well have served as Israeli ambassadors to Washington. But they were far less opinionated than this specimen.
An ambassador serves as the eyes and ears of the home country in a foreign state. Among his tasks is providing his superiors in the foreign office with reliable, unbiased information, on which to base policy. The ideal ambassador is a cool observer, with no strong feelings towards the country of his mission, neither positive nor negative.
This description of a diplomat is the exact opposite of this particular individual.
22 December
Sad that editors feel the need to label this ‘satirical’ – however, it may not be far from the truth!
Op-ed: What Now? (Satirical) Advice to Diplomats from an Ex-Ambassador
The diplomats should put down their bottles of antacids and relax. Their job has really become much easier. All they have to do is follow the rules of this new reality.
Rule one: Ignore the various government agencies, especially the State Department. They will all continue to beaver away and put out statements and position papers, but they no longer matter. They will be staffed by dispirited career bureaucrats overseen by clueless political appointees with no government experience. The only thing they will have in common is that they will have no impact on the policy process.
Congress will also no longer matter. The overwhelming mandate derived from coming in a distant second in the popular vote will allow the president-elect to have his way whatever it is. And congressmen are as spineless as those Republican luminaries who, a few weeks ago, were harshly critical of the man they are now sucking up to for a job. So, you can forget the checks-and-balances thing.
Trump Pressures Obama Over U.N. Resolution on Israeli Settlements
(NYT) President-elect Donald J. Trump publicly pressured President Obama on Thursday to veto a United Nations resolution critical of Israel, the newly elected leader’s most direct intervention in foreign policy during his transition to power. His words closely echoed the positions expressed by Israeli leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has welcomed Mr. Trump’s election as a breath of fresh air after years of clashes with Mr. Obama.
Egypt, one of Israel’s most reliable partners in the Middle East and a longtime United States ally, announced that it would put up the draft measure for a vote after extensive consultations with fellow Arab diplomats. The vote was scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m. But by mid-morning, President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi ordered his diplomats to pull the resolution.
… Mr. Trump’s ambassador-designate, David M. Friedman, has suggested that Israel annex the West Bank, has denounced the two-state solution …  Mr. Friedman, an Orthodox Jew who has an apartment in Jerusalem, is also a major backer of settlements, serving as president of an American fund-raising group that supports a yeshiva in Beit El, a religious settlement deep in the West Bank. Mr. Trump and Mr. Friedman have also said they plan to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, something counter to longstanding bipartisan policy that could yield ire throughout the Arab and Muslim world.
The UN weighs in on Israeli settlements. The UN Security Council will vote on a draft resolution calling for Israel to stop settlement-building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. The US will most likely use its veto, as it always has in the past to protect Israel—but abstaining would be a pointed parting shot by Barack Obama, who’s had a tense relationship with Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu.
20 December
The Trump Doctrine: A Work in Progress
(Stratfor) Perhaps the greatest difference between the Obama and Trump foreign policies lies in what may be Trump’s biggest virtue: his unpredictability. Obama has been criticized as overly cautious in his foreign policy and thus too much of a known entity for U.S. adversaries. Trump, on the other hand, gives the impression that he is willing to throw caution to the wind and rely on instinct in shaping foreign policy. This matters immensely for U.S. allies and adversaries alike that have to be kept on their toes in developing their long-term strategy while avoiding the unexpected with the world’s superpower.
19 December
The Trump World Order
(Bloomberg) Trump isn’t yet president, so it’s early to be drawing conclusions. But concern is warranted. Trump rejects the status quo in America’s relations with the rest of the world, and seems to see global stability as a kind of national surrender.
[With respect to China] Trump is proposing to connect trade policy to an issue of great-power politics over which China may be willing to go to war. Stir things up to get better deals. (The implication that the U.S. will have nothing to say on Taiwan so long as Beijing gives Trump a trade deal he likes is disturbing in its own right.) This kind of thinking leads nowhere good.
18 December
White House faces exodus of foreign policy experts ahead of Trump’s arrival
An unusual number of the National Security Council’s more junior officials are looking to depart, due to concerns about incoming advisor Michael Flynn
(The Guardian) The White House is struggling to prevent a crippling exodus of foreign policy staffers eager to leave before the arrival of the Trump administration, according to current and former officials.
The top level officials in the National Security Council (NSC) are political appointees who have to submit resignations and leave in a normal transition. The rest of the 400 NSC staff are career civil servants on secondment from other departments. An unusual number of these more junior officials are now looking to depart.
It could be hard for NSC staffers “detailed” (seconded) from other departments to return to their former positions ahead of schedule. That would require the agreement of their managers and could harm long-term career prospects. Those that do leave however, will leave vacancies that are hard to fill. Their replacements would have to be drawn from career civil servants at other agencies, as the White House does not have the budget to fund the posts if they are filled by political appointees.
16 December
trump-and-david-friedmanDavid Remnick: Trump’s Daily Bankruptcy and the Ambassador to Israel
(The New Yorker) … let’s concentrate on the outrage of the day: the appointment of a bankruptcy lawyer named David Friedman as Ambassador to Israel. Friedman writes regularly for Arutz Sheva, a pro-settler Web site that is available in English. After reading these columns, you might reasonably conclude that, if Israel decided it was in its interest to annex the West Bank, Friedman would heartily approve and help raise the flag. Ideologically, Friedman is to the right of Benjamin Netanyahu. His rhetoric, his viewpoints, and his prejudices are in sync with settler leaders in the government, and in the settlements themselves.
Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, has been a crucial adviser to the campaign and the transition, and he and his family have an intense interest in Israeli affairs. Their politics on the issue are distinctly right-wing. Kushner’s family foundation has, according to Israeli media reports, donated tens of thousands of dollars to West Bank institutions, despite the fact that the State Department has long regarded the settlements there as a barrier to peace in the region. In 2013, for instance, the Kushner family foundation gave twenty thousand dollars to the Beit El Yeshiva, a school in a particularly hard-right settlement. Friedman is the president of a foundation that raises money for institutions in Beit El.
Trump Chooses Settlements Supporter as Ambassador to Israel
David Friedman’s pick may signal major shift in U.S. policy
Nominee opposes two-state solution, backs Israeli settlements
J Street Vehemently Opposes Nomination of David Friedman as US Ambassador to Israel
He has publicly called President Barack Obama an anti-Semite. He has promoted the false and dangerous conspiracy theory that a Pakistani-Indian aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. He has labeled “liberal Jews” as “worse than kapos,” referring to Jews who collaborated with Nazis during the Holocaust, thereby hideously twisting the legacy of the Holocaust for use as a political weapon. His nomination is reckless, putting America’s reputation in the region and credibility around the world at risk.

15 December
Trump’s Secretary of State Pick May Help Direct Shift in U.S. Foreign Policy
Donald Trump laid out a wholesale rethinking of American foreign policy during his campaign.
(NBC) If confirmed by the Senate … Rex Tillerson … would have to implement that vision.
That work will likely include efforts to ease tensions between the U.S. and Russia, withdrawing from global agreements on climate change and Iran’s nuclear weapons program, limiting the number of refugees coming to America, and ending the American-backed push to force Syria’s Bashar Assad from power.
Trump says that America can have a less tense relationship with Russia. In a press conference in July, the businessman suggested he would consider both lifting U.S. sanctions against Russia and formally recognizing Russian control of Crimea. He could accomplish both through his executive authority.
Tillerson … in his role at Exxon, expressed skepticism about the sanctions against Russia.
During the campaign, Trump called for a more aggressive posture toward China, at least on economic issues. He frequently suggested he would rethink American trade with the world’s most populous nation, arguing current policy allows China to “rape our country” and threatening tariffs on Chinese-made goods imported to the U.S. … he would also reconsider the American “One China” policy that does not recognize Taiwan as an independent nation. China will also be influential in U.S. efforts, which Trump says he will continue, to prevent North Korea from further developing its nuclear weapons program.
The Middle East
Trump has said he broadly wants a pullback from U.S. engagement in the Middle East. In a interview last month with the Wall Street Journal, Trump suggested the U.S. should better hone (sic) in on fighting ISIS, rather than supporting rebel efforts to unseat Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Russia factors into his calculations given that nation’s support of the Assad regime in the Syrian civil war.
He wants to rethink the multi-national agreement on Iran’s nuclear weapons and generally be tougher with the Iranian regime. And he wants to have a close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
One of Trump’s most specific promises during the campaign was changing how America talks about terrorism. … the president-elect insists that the U.S. must publicly say that ISIS and other groups are Islamic, making clear who the U.S. is fighting against.
Trump Feud Over Russia Intel Raises Deeper Concerns, Experts Say
President-elect Donald Trump’s ongoing feud with U.S. intelligence agencies over alleged hacking by Russia is unnerving outside national security experts, some of whom fear the frosty relationship could impact Trump’s ability to govern.
Of course Trump — who said in August the intelligence community’s performance has been “catastrophic” —wouldn’t be the first president to have a strained relationship with his own agencies. But what separates Trump, some experts say, is his unusually harsh public criticism of the intelligence community’s basic worth and and a lack of clarity on how he plans to gather facts if he refuses their counsel.
13 December
Netanyahu: Trump’s Idea to Move U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem Is ‘Great’
(Haaretz) Prime minister’s comments during his visit to Azerbaijan come day after president-elect’s aide says moving the embassy is a ‘very big priority’ for Trump.
Moving U.S. embassy to Jerusalem ‘very big priority’ for Trump, senior adviser says
Where does Donald Trump stand on Israel?
Jerusalem mayor and Kushner pal Barkat optimistic Trump will move embassy to Jerusalem
rex-tillersonRex Tillerson’s World: In His Own Words
Remarks by the nominee for secretary of state reveal a pragmatic executive whose views often appear to diverge from Donald Trump’s.
(The Atlantic) I read five years worth of speeches made by Tillerson on Exxon’s website, and comments elsewhere, and they reveal a pragmatic executive confident about the role of energy in the world, the benefits of deregulation as well as free trade, and the dangers posed by climate change and the best ways to tackle it. Many of these views appear to diverge from Trump’s positions. [e.g.]
In the years ahead, as the economy and energy landscape evolves worldwide, leaders in the United States and Asia will need to examine how their own policies can support international cooperation and energy trade. One of the most promising developments on this front is the ongoing effort for the Trans-Pacific Partnership.”
Climate change
Exxon, under Tillerson, supported the Paris climate accord, from which Trump has said he wants to withdraw. Earlier this year, Tillerson said: “We share the view that the risks of climate change are serious and warrant thoughtful action.” Tillerson has made the case for a carbon tax “as the best policy of those being considered.”
Trump’s Team Differs on Foreign Policy Issues
Key members of national-security team have conflicting views on Iran, climate change and trade
President-elect Donald Trump has selected a national-security team whose members hold conflicting positions on some major foreign-policy issues, leaving open the question of how he will exert U.S. power on the world stage.
Mr. Trump’s core advisers differ on topics including climate change, trade, and the international nuclear deal with Iran. But there is an overarching similarity in their worldviews: that the time has come for a shift from the current U.S. approach to global affairs.
Mr. Trump already has demonstrated his intent to upend President Barack Obama’s approach to Russia and China by pursuing warmer ties with Moscow and a more confrontational posture toward Beijing. Mr. Obama has sought a closer relationship with China while aggressively taking on Russian President Vladimir Putin over his interventions in Ukraine and Syria. …
Mr. Trump also has signaled a willingness to change positions he took in the campaign on issues such as U.S. commitments to an international climate change agreement or the Iran nuclear deal.
“I don’t think there is a clear and coherent worldview yet,” said R. Nicholas Burns, a former career diplomat and undersecretary of state during the George W. Bush administration, of Mr. Trump. “We have these emotions and opinions, but we don’t have a coherent governing strategy yet and he deserves some time to be able to put that together.”

Listen Closely: Donald Trump Proposes Big Mideast Strategy Shift
He signals a break from Obama and Bush: ‘We will stop looking to topple regimes and overthrow governments’
On their face, [his] statements suggest:
— An end to the effort to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for the effort to throw out Mr. Assad is nothing if not an effort to topple a regime.
— A partnership with Russia in the region, for Russian President Vladimir Putin certainly has demonstrated he is “willing to join in the effort” to defeat Islamic State in Syria.
— A warmer relationship with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, a strongman who has demonstrated an unmistakable ferocity in his own fight against Islamic extremism, while also being largely shunned by the Obama administration for shredding civil liberties in Egypt.
— A policy toward Iran that doubtless will be hostile and include an attempt to dissolve the Obama-negotiated deal on nuclear arms, but one that won’t include regime change in Tehran as an explicit goal.
5 December
(The Atlantic) Last week, president-elect Donald Trump placed an impromptu phone call to Taiwan’s president, breaking a decades-old U.S. policy of refusing to recognize the Taiwanese government. This week, the fallout continues, with one Chinese scholar, Shen Dingli, arguing that if Trump did something similar after taking office, Shen might recommend China’s breaking ties with the U.S. Here’s the full interview with Shen, and here are some reactions from readers—one of whom makes the case for why it might be time to for America to reconsider its political fiction of a non-relationship with Taiwan. That would come, however, at the cost of seriously angering China, whose key partnership with the U.S. is already precarious.
2 December
So, Why Can’t You Call Taiwan?
President-elect Donald Trump has committed a sharp breach of protocol—one that underscores just how weird some important protocols are.
(The Atlantic) Trump’s previous conversations might provide hints on whether foreign governments will take Trump seriously. As Uri Friedman wrote today, Trump’s conversation with Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif has already had repercussions. The Pakistani government put out a readout that read suspiciously like a near-verbatim transcript of Trump’s words, capturing the tone the president-elect uses. His promise to “play any role that you want me to play to address and find solutions to the outstanding problems” might sound to an American who just observed the election as so much Trumpian space-filling, but it made headlines in Pakistan, where some interpreted it as a nod to Pakistan’s conflict with India in Kashmir. Hussain Haqqani, Pakistan’s former ambassador to the United States, told the Times it appeared Pakistani officials had taken Trump’s words too seriously.
China is perhaps a more sophisticated foreign-policy player than Pakistan; it’s certainly a more important one. But as Fallows points out, a China that sees Trump as buffoon probably isn’t good for American interests either.

1 December
A World of Trouble for Donald Trump
(NYT Editorial) That Donald Trump is having trouble choosing a secretary of state underscores concerns about his ability to manage the international challenges he will face in office — from the aggression of leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin to the Islamic State to strains among NATO allies.
At times, Mr. Trump’s campaign talk suggested new approaches; at other times, he offered a jumble of contradictory ideas. His mantra of “America first” implies a reduced American role overseas, but he has also advocated a tough posture toward adversaries. All of this creates an unsettling unpredictability that has already affected how governments and companies think and act. There is still little sign that Mr. Trump, who has declined daily briefings by the intelligence agencies, understands these threats and how to deal with them. …
Iran: Mr. Trump has vowed to tear up the 2015 deal under which Iran halted its most dangerous nuclear activities in exchange for the lifting of most international sanctions. The agreement is working, as many of its critics in Congress and the Middle East acknowledge. Mr. Trump, however, has chosen a national security adviser and a C.I.A. director who are both adamantly opposed to the deal, regardless of the consequences of ending it.
Presidents have wide latitude to act unilaterally in foreign policy and command a powerful bully pulpit. Even so, Congress, career diplomats, interest groups, the media and foreign leaders can help shape, inform and stymie presidential intentions. The world has long relied on the United States to be the steady hand. The challenges will be more complex than Mr. Trump ever imagined. There is little reason to believe that he will provide strong leadership on these fronts, but every reason to hope that he does.

21 November
Long, fascinating, and at times scary. It also presupposes far more deep thinking than Donald Trump has exhibited to date publicly
Donald Trump’s New World Order
What a Kissinger-inspired strategy might look like.
By Niall Ferguson
(The American Interest) Kissinger’s recommendations to Trump may be summarized as follows:
Do not go all-out into a confrontation with China, whether on trade or the South China Sea. Rather, seek “comprehensive discussion” and aim to pursue that policy of dialogue and “co-evolution” recommended in World Order. Kissinger sees the Chinese President, Xi Jinping, quite regularly. When he says that Xi regards “confrontation as too dangerous” and thinks that “adversarial countries must become partners and cooperate on a win-win basis,” he speaks with authority. The questions the Chinese want to ask the new President, according to Kissinger, are these: “If we were you, we might try to suppress your rise. Do you seek to suppress us? If you do not, what will the world look like when we are both strong, as we expect to be?” Trump needs to have answers to these questions. The alternative, as Kissinger has said repeatedly, is for the United States and China to talk past each other until they stumble into 1914 in the Pacific, not to mention in cyberspace.
Given a weakened, traumatized, post-imperial Russia, the recognition Putin craves is that of “a great power, as an equal, and not as a supplicant in an American-designed system.” Kissinger’s message to Trump is well calibrated to appeal to his instincts: “It is not possible to bring Russia into the international system by conversion. It requires deal-making, but also understanding.” The central deal, Kissinger argues, would turn Ukraine into “a bridge between NATO and Russia rather than an outpost of either side,” like Finland or Austria in the Cold War, “free to conduct its own economic and political relationships, including with both Europe and Russia, but not party to any military or security alliance.” Such a non-aligned Ukraine would also need to be decentralized, increasing the autonomy of the contested eastern regions, where there has been intermittent conflict since separatist movements received Russian support in the wake of the Crimean annexation. The alternative to such a deal is that we may inadvertently over-use our financial and military superiority, turning a post-Putin Russia into a vast version of Yugoslavia, “wracked by conflict stretching from St. Petersburg to Vladivostok.”
Treat Brexit as an opportunity to steer the continental Europeans away from bureaucratic introspection and back to strategic responsibility. (“They’re talking about tactical matters while they’re in the process of giving up the essence of . . . what they’ve represented throughout history.”)
Make peace in Syria rather as we made peace in the former Yugoslavia nearly twenty years ago. Kissinger now recommends a “cantonization” of Syria similar to the federalization of Bosnia under the Washington and Dayton agreements, with an “off-ramp for Assad” lasting around a year, all under the “supervision” of the interested outside powers. Iran must be contained, much as the Soviet Union was in the Cold War, because it poses a similar threat, acting as both an imperial state and a revolutionary cause. But keep the Iran agreement because to abandon it now “would free Iran from more constraints than it would free the United States.” And finally take advantage of the new-found, albeit tacit, anti-Iranian and anti-ISIS alignment of the Arab states with Israel to achieve a new kind of Arab-sponsored peace deal that would “improve the lives of Palestinians to the greatest extent possible, perhaps including quasi-sovereignty . . . that is, de facto autonomy without a legalistic superstructure.”

9 November
Robert Fisk: The Middle East will present Donald Trump with a terrifying choice – and he won’t be able to handle it
What does Trump actually do when these lands present a “threat” to the West? Dust off his anti-Muslim hatreds? Call up his mate Vladimir? Ask for an atlas?
(The Independent) Trump’s Middle East is likely to be pretty much the same as Hillary’s Middle East might have been. Uncritical support for nuclear Israel and its chaotic prime minister, constant bombast about terror, terror, terror, terror, terror, terror (delete when you get tired of the word) and support for “moderates” – be they rebels (of the Syrian variety), presidents and kings (of the Sissi of Egypt/Abdullah of Jordan variety) and our friends (Saudis/Qataris/Kuwaitis).
But we will arm them. Be sure of this. The Gulf states will continue to gobble up US weapons/missiles/tanks/aircraft and Trump will visit these dusty monarchies and be treated like a king – which, I suppose, he would rather like to be – and he will assure Israel of America’s undying, constant, unquestioning support for the “only democracy in the Middle East”.
So I’ll hazard a cruel prediction. The Middle East will reach out and grab Donald Trump when he least expects it, that it will present him with a terrifying choice (war or peace) and that his administration – such as it is – will not be capable of dealing with it.

One Comment on "Trump administration: U.S. Foreign Relations"

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson January 7, 2017 at 12:27 am · Reply

    Note from a European friend of Wednesday Night.
    After the intelligence debacle of the Iraq war and “weapons of mass destruction”, it is actually quite understandable that Trump does not trust US intelligence agencies. Very few do. However, the Russian hacking operation has been confirmed by BND as well as the French, both well informed in Russian affairs.
    The problem here is, that no-one, not even the US agencies, can reveal their sources as that would have serious consequences. Knowing this, Trump can and probably will deny their claims as “unsubstantiated”. He does this knowing that he was wrong, but cannot admit to have been elected with Russian help either, even that he most likely never asked for it.
    We have no other alternative than to pin our hopes on Trump being a cunning wheeler-dealer, who will in time realise that Putin is taking him on a ride. That will perhaps solve the “Russian problem”. The one in the Mid-East will not be solved, but get worse. Here Trump trusts his “advisers” = minders.
    To make matters worse, Trump is aggravating China and at the same time ignoring entirely another rising power: India. We are entering a new unpredictable era in foreign relations.

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